|Mural of St. Benedict at St. Meinrad Archabbey|
St. Benedict died today, March 21, 543, although his feast day was shifted to July 11 on the new calendar. This is also the day four years ago the Bear and his mate made their initial pledge as Benedictine oblates.
St. Benedict is known as the Father of Western Monasticism. He founded the great abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy. His most important achievement was writing his famous Rule, which is still used by Benedictine monasteries, and -- in spirit -- by oblates.
Although it seems difficult and even harsh by today's standards, by 6th century standards it was moderate. St. Benedict did not want to leave behind a rule that no one would follow. There are almost nostalgic concessions to the weaknesses of his day. For example, he has the monks go through the psalms in one week, although he observes that in the old day, monks went through them in one day. (We're up to a month these days.) He establishes the Opus Dei, the regular orbit of psalms through the week, and each day's epicycles. Similarly, the monks are only to have a half bottle of wine. "We read that monks should not drink wine at all," St. Benedict writes, "but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us at least agree to drink moderately, and not to excess." But in typical Benedictine fashion, he allows the Abbot to make exceptions.
St. Benedict's Rule is a work of genius, and well worth reading by lay persons. Much of it gives instruction in Christian virtues. To say it is grounded in Holy Scripture is an understatement. Hardly a sentence is without a quote from the Bible.
St. Benedict died, it is said, a few days after his sister, St. Scholastica, but not before he was given the heartbreaking certainty that his beloved monastery would be destroyed. However, it would be rebuilt and Benedictine monasticism survives today, although religious vocations may be less than might be hoped.